At the unlikely midpoint between the psychedelic visuals projected on to the wall at a rave and one of economist Naomi Klein’s essays picking apart global capitalism, we find this one-hour, one-of-a-kind experimental wonder from Jodie Mack. Combining her skills as an animator with 16mm footage shot in Mexico, Poland, China and a dozen other countries, the media-mixing artist has single-handedly assembled a euphoric, hyperkinetic tapestry of colors and textures from little more than loose scraps of fabric.
She places her focus on the textile industry, then lets the patterns and associations in her raw material suggest ideas about regionalism and commerce – a cerebral project, enlivened by the sheer propulsion of Mack’s editing and the jittery electropop soundtrack she largely composed herself. If you get lost grooving to the hallucinatory imagery onscreen, you’ll be taken off guard by the intellectual rigor; if you’re busy trying to parse the commentary, you’ll be surprised by the energizing good time you’re having. Either way, it’s an accessible pleasure from the wild world of the avant-garde. Charles Bramesco
Most agree there’s something endearing about the tall, skinny and badly tattooed comedian Pete Davidson. Judd Apatow based an entire film of him making bad decisions in The King of Staten Island. But a far better use of Davidson’s whole thing is Big Time Adolescence. In it, Davidson is first a portal then obstacle to adulthood for a 16-year-old kid (Griffin Gluck), who pals up with Davidson after his older sister briefly dates him.
At first it’s all bong hits and video games (and a dalliance with lawbreaking that would have a graver effect were these not suburban whites) until the realization that living in squalor surrounded by empty beer bottles is not an enviable station in life. And yet, palling around with the gross, foul-mouthed Davidson is undeniably hilarious. This scrubby mess asking “yo, bro, you have any pea shoots?” at the supermarket is, in its own way, a kind of beautiful music. Charisma is not something that can be built, one simply has it or doesn’t. This film exploits Davidson’s talents exceptionally well. Jordan Hoffman
Kris Rey is an actor and director from the “mumblecore” stable who, without anyone really caring or noticing, made one of the year’s most beguiling films. I Used to Go Here is a comedy of quarterlife or thirdlife crisis with a throwaway lightness and dapper self-awareness, combined with a broad and surreal streak of farce. Kate, played by Gillian Jacobs, is a woman in her 30s who has finally achieved her life’s dream – she is publishing her first novel. But so far from entering an enchanted garden of prestige and cultural celebrity, Kate finds that she is plunged into a world of poor sales and iffy reviews. Then she gets an invitation to speak at her old college, where her tutor (Jemaine Clement) now has a creepy fan-worshippy crush on her, and hanging out with the students there, Kate begins to regress to her callow late-teen self, which was there under the surface all along. An irresistibly dry satire of adulthood and our yearning for success. Peter Bradshaw
“Underseen” is a relative term when it comes to I’m Your Woman: it was released directly to Amazon Prime earlier this month, so who’s to say exactly how many people have seen it? Either way, Julia Hart’s smart, sinewy, from-the-margins underworld story feels like a film more people should be talking about.
Starring Rachel Brosnahan (in a welcome key change from TV’s The Marvellous Mrs Maisel) as a previously sheltered gangster’s wife forced to go on the run when her husband’s dealings turn sour, and a superb Arinze Kene as the heavy, reluctantly assigned to guard her, it’s a quietly subversive realignment of genre priorities, centering the female and black characters that many mob films dispatch without a second thought. Hart works elegantly in the flinty, melancholic language – visual and verbal – of 1970s American crime cinema, but with a modern feminist consciousness, constantly questioning and chafing against genre conventions. Guy Lodge
If you went looking for escapism in your movies this year, you’ll probably have swerved The Roads Not Taken, which promised to be a gruelling drama about Alzheimer’s – both the pain of enduring the condition and the burden of caring for a loved one in its grip. But Sally Potter’s film offered more than tears and trauma.
Elle Fanning’s brilliant performance as Molly, the daughter of dementia-struck author Leo (Javier Bardem) brings home the cost of caring, the choices that we make between our careers and our families. Their scenes together reach for a brutal black comedy, while flashbacks to Leo’s past reveal a long-buried tragedy. The key perhaps to getting the most from the film is to consider Molly as its centre, not her father. Potter offers possibilities rather than platitudes, and looks with both rigour and sympathy at the effects of living with illness, but also with regrets. Pamela Hutchinson
A glistening summer in Cannes sets the stage for Rebecca Zlotowski’s breezy coming-of-age tale, which unfolds as a deceptively simple cruise through the world of vacationing elites, casual sex and transactional relationships. At its center are two Maghrebi women: the titular “easy” girl played by French tabloid sensation Zahia Dehar, and a naive but intelligent high-schooler (newcomer Mina Farid) who tags along and observes her older cousin’s worldly, sexually liberated ways. A model and reality star who draws comparisons to Brigitte Bardot and Kim Kardashian, Dehar first made the headlines a decade ago when she was involved in an underage sex scandal involving high-profile French footballers.
In An Easy Girl, Zlotowski carefully deconstructs Dehar’s persona and its underpinning stereotypes, revealing the hurt behind the coy smile, the emotional burden beneath the carefree veneer. Perhaps all the bling and skinny-dipping is a distraction, but the movie is subtle and complex in ways not immediately apparently – not unlike the women it seeks to dignify. Beatrice Loayza
Residue demands to be seen, even if the characters in the film are deeply apprehensive about who is watching. That makes appearing on this list a complicated position for Merawi Gerima’s, concrete-hard, hip-hop-fuelled debut about the gentrification of a black neighbourhood.
The film follows a young film-maker named Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) who returns from Los Angeles to his old community in Washington DC’s Q Street area. Jay searches for absent friends on empty corners, while haunting memories fill the spaces. He also chafes at all the new white residents and their prying eyes.
The camera often leans in close on Jay to keep those white faces offscreen, as if Gerima’s film is putting up a resistance to gentrification. But Gerima also thoughtfully and emotionally interrogates that resistance and acknowledges its futility. That tight framing confines Jay, as if he’s trapped by those watching. Radheyan Simonpillai
While it might have taken us far too long to get to a place where films about women who just can’t seem to get their shit together are starting to equal those about men in the same boat, it’s a character type that’s too often written in broad, lazy strokes. So what a joy it was to see the witty, specific and fully realised protagonist of Saint Frances make a believable mess of things without ever feeling like a thinly traced archetype, written not for shock value but for emotional connection instead.
Bridget (played by Kelly O’Sullivan, who also wrote the script) is not the writer she thought she’d be. In fact, she’s not even a writer at all. She dropped out of college and years later, approaching her mid-30s, she’s shagging twentysomethings at parties and hate-working as a waitress. But when an opportunity to become a nanny enters her life, things slowly start to change. I’m quite allergic to stories where children are used to rehabilitate, the age-old dynamic relying on an overdose of saccharine and a simplistic notion of the healing power of pre-pubescence. But Saint Frances is a film that earns every single emotional beat, overcoming its well-worn formula with wit and warmth, O’Sullivan’s unfiltered yet generous script selling every character and action, avoiding cliche at every turn. It’s a wonderful, big-hearted film and deserves an audience of equal size. Benjamin Lee
Through the Night does what so many self-serving hosannas for essential workers during the pandemic did not: pay ample, generous attention to those who keep the country functioning with undervalued jobs often hollowed of benefits, look closely at the work itself as life-sustaining and valued in its own right. Over the course of two years, Bronx-based Afro-Dominican director Loira Limbal embedded in one 24/7 home daycare in New Rochelle, New York, operated by married couple Deloris (“Nunu”) and Patrick (“PopPop”) Hogan. A fly on the wall, Limbal observes their home as a fount of caregiving, a pillar of support not just for the children but the parents, often Latina and black single mothers, strained by night shifts or America’s gig economy.
The film’s quiet, radical curiosity radiates far wider than one daycare; in observing with wonder small acts of love and the everyday work of care – work frequently fulfilled by women, especially women of color, and often dismissed or hidden – Through the Night argues for a much larger reorientation of values. Though filmed pre-pandemic, it offers a promising path forward with scenes of caring many Americans should sit with, in a documentary I hope more people see. Adrian Horton
If you could distil all the political aggravation of the last few years into one film, it would be this: a short sharp lesson about Rock Against Racism (RAR), which put itself about in a mid-1970s UK roiled by racial violence, class conflict and the disruptive energy of punk rock.
The film’s contentious title takes its name from an early classic by the Clash; a song that even at the time divided audiences as to its exact position on the irony scale.The Clash in fact loom large over this film: they were the key to turbocharging RAR’s appeal and pulling in the thousands of kids to the final climactic concert.
White Riot, though, is as much about politics as music, and the sight of street battles between the National Front and various anti-fascist groups, is a basic reminder that this really hasn’t gone away, just changed its tone. In truth the National Front were never anywhere near an electoral breakthrough in the 1970s but their presence, like the EDL or Proud Boys, was simply toxic. This film demonstrates the joy of lancing the boil. Andrew Pulver